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Ikaruga (GameCube) artwork

Ikaruga (GameCube) review

"I will admit I am not a fan of Treasure. But I have to give them some credit; they made their latest game, Ikaruga, sound not only interesting, but innovative as well. Talks about switching between black and white really sounded cool and made Ikaruga sound like the future of videogames. "

I will admit I am not a fan of Treasure. But I have to give them some credit; they made their latest game, Ikaruga, sound not only interesting, but innovative as well. Talks about switching between black and white really sounded cool and made Ikaruga sound like the future of videogames.

But after over ten hours of playing, I can assure you that Ikaruga is not the revolution that Treasure was hyping it up as. This polarity gimmick is nothing more than an attempt to save a dying genre. The story was even removed from the Gamecube version, which makes Ikaruga nothing more than a just another vertical shooter; the same type of game that we’ve been playing for almost two decades now.

Ikaruga’s two main attractions are its polarity and chain systems. Throughout the game you will encounter enemies that are one of two colors – black and white. You can also switch the polarity of your ship to either black or white; you deal more damage when you’re in the opposite polarity as your enemies and absorb bullets (known in the game as bullet eating) of ships in the same polarity as you. When you absorb a certain amount of bullets you can unleash a more powerful homing attack that targets anywhere between 1-12 enemies depending on how much energy you’ve absorbed. Then there’s the chain system. Whenever you shoot three consecutive foes of the same polarity you get a “chain” bonus. If you want to get a good score chain combos are vital, which means a lot of time will be spent practicing each level. The chain and polarity systems make Ikaruga a very innovative game.

Or not.

All of this so-called “creativeness” comes at a big price. The polarity system is a cool feature, but it totally replaced powerups. Besides the charge shot I previously mentioned there aren’t any powerups to be found in the entire game. The lack of powerups makes switching polarities seems more like a substitute than a new and unique idea. Replacing a brilliant idea is a big step backward, but luckily the concept is cool enough to keep the game fresh.

Ikaruga is also different to past shooters in the sense that the emphasis is on memorization rather than skill. Enemies always appear at the same spots and move in the same patterns, which makes it mandatory to memorize each level. Reflexes don’t play a major role in Ikaruga, so replaying levels over and over again until you know everything is the way to win. The game is a challenge, but unfortunately it is frustrating as well. It might be simple to pick up and play, but takes a lot of focus and dedication to master. The difficulty is definitely not for everyone and might even bother shooter vets as well as newcomers to the genre.

The aforementioned problems prevent Ikaruga from being the next big shmup, but they do not keep it from being a great game. Ikaruga is still loaded with plenty of moments that makes it a blast to play.

Each of Ikaruga’s five levels present unique and enjoyable challenges. Sometimes the game plays like a standard shooter, and level one is the best example of this. Although it is pretty basic, it features several different types of enemies that attack you. They are generally grouped together, which means it is easy to rack up big chain bonuses. Later on this gets more challenging. In stage four there’s a part where enemies are everywhere and are either shooting or diving at you, and you must shoot back and dodge them before they crash into your ship. Of course maneuvering your ship also plays a great role, and there are plenty of challenges regarding this. They range anywhere from moving your ship through gates trying to close on you in level three to navigating your way through a circle or spiral of enemies trying kill you kamikaze style in levels 2 and 5.

The best part about Ikaruga, however, would have to be when its challenges involve the polarity system. I’ve been playing shooters for quite some time, and I’ve never seen so many bullets and lasers fired in my entire life. In the third level you fight a giant ship that shoots streams of black and white lasers. They aren’t too tough to dodge, but the bastard also shoots a stream of bullets at you, and runs away through a path loaded with walls that you must dodge without hitting any of the lasers while in the opposite polarity. There are also two giant “laser snakes” in stage 5 that circle around the room, one being black, and one being white. Their tails grow longer and longer, and if you’re not careful they will eventually trap you. Level 4 contains one of the most impressive moments. After a frantic but brief beginning, a giant satellite appears in the middle of the screen. It shoots a bunch of black and white laser streams, and is initially nearly impossible to dodge. Of course you can be a sissy and hide behind the smaller floating satellites, but enemies will eventually appear, forcing you in the middle. Now you must quickly doge the lasers that the satellite shoots by constantly switching polarities while shooting down the enemies that block the way. These situations might sound strange, but if you’re willing to practice and persevere you’ll find out that it is one of the most rewarding gaming experiences you can get.

Luckily Treasure was aware that the difficulty is too intense for some. Because of this they included a bunch of other gameplay modes to help you get better. Included is a tutorial that shows the computer playing each level at different skill levels, a conquest mode that allows you to focus on one level that you’ve previously unlocked, and slow play, which slows the game down to half-speed. Ikaruga also doesn’t force you to do anything that you don’t want to do and gives you a lot of freedom. If you want you can play through the entire game without firing a single bullet. That’s right, you don’t have to kill any enemies or bosses! If you manage to do that you will be awarded with the rank bullet eater, which is something to brag about. Actually it is sometimes easier to bullet eat, especially against the third boss. But of course there’s a downside – you won’t receive any points. So the strategy of whether or not to fire is completely up to you.

Ikaruga is without a doubt a good game, although it is far from the evolution it was supposed to be. Even with its problems it is still the best old-school shooter on this generation of consoles, and at this point it looks like it will keep its title forever. Fans of overhead shooters should definitely check it out, as it is a great experience that doesn’t appear too often nowdays. Everyone else be warned -- Ikaruga takes a lot of time and patience you get the most out of it, but if you do you’ll be rewarded. If not then you’ll realize why this genre is almost dead.

Halon's avatar
Community review by Halon (February 27, 2011)

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CoarseDragon posted March 02, 2011:

Ikaruga is also different to past shooters in the sense that the emphasis is on memorization rather than skill. Enemies always appear at the same spots and move in the same patterns, which makes it mandatory to memorize each level

To me this sounds a bit boring.

Are there really only 5 levels? How long do they take to complete?

Some people might not know that "shump" is an acronym for Shoot'um up

Nice review not sure I'll try it though.
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Halon posted March 02, 2011:

Thanks, I agree that it needs some work in a lot of places. It's actually a review from 2005 that was posted under my other account. I just wanted to keep everything under one account so it was removed and then reposted along with two more.

I haven't played the game in years so my memory's a bit rusty, but I'm pretty sure length is typical for a shmup. If you don't die you'll breeze through it in 20 minutes, but on your first try it'll likely take you more than twice that to make it through the first level. Then mastering it is a different story. Fourth level alone took me a good day to figure out.

Nothing innovate and very memory-based, but extremely rewarding and definitely worth trying out if you're a shmup fan and/or want a decent challenge.

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